We were away at a family camp for bereaved parents these past few days, thanks to Barretstown.
Barretstown is a charity organisation for families with children who are seriously ill. Not only do they give children and their families a time out from doctors and operations, but they also support the families after their child has left this earth.
Barretstown rests on acres of beautiful wildland nestled in the foothills of the Wicklow Mountains. It is a haven.
From Rock Climbing to baking and everything in between, we relished in the comfort of talking about our Ethan without pause for how we were making other people feel.
Those who have not had to carry the grief we carry cannot possibly understand how hard it is to talk about losing our child openly.
Barretstown understands that.
Barretstown welcomes tears, tantrums, sadness, laughter, silliness and every emotion a family like ours goes through daily.
Our grief is daily, hourly…there are no cliches used in Barretstown; we, the parents who have had to bury our children, are free to be heartbroken one second and laughing the next.
Judgement is non-existent in Barretstown.
In the world we find ourselves in now, outside of Barretstown, we are not free to express the genuinely horrific, heartbreaking reality of burying our child.
Child loss isn’t something people willingly talk about. It is undoubtedly a conversation many wish they never have to be part of, let alone live through it. It is too sad.
In Barettstown, our grief was welcomed, shared and acknowledge in an authentic and raw way. It was a relief for us, the bereaved family.
We all have people in our lives who try their best to be there for us as we face the life we must build after our child has passed.
We are lucky to have these people, who I have learned to call ‘Heaters’.
Heaters are the warm people, the people who have not lived with the heaviness of our grief, but they want to be there for us.
They sit and listen.
They ask, “How are you doing?” with open ears and soft eyes.
They are not afraid of seeing someone cry.
They don’t stop asking because time has passed.
They continued to walk, often quietly beside us—they radiant warmth, empathy, compassion.
We learned a long time ago, when Ethan was diagnosed, who the ‘Heaters’ were within our circle. We also met many ‘Heaters’ throughout Ethans eighteen years with us. We are blessed to know so many ‘Heaters’.
Then there are the ‘Hoovers’.
Now, don’t get me wrong, some people can be ‘Hoovers’ only sometimes and without thinking.
Others, well, they are just ‘Hoovers’ in every situation. ‘Hoovers’ are the people who ask “How are you doing?” without wanting you to answer that question, there is no pause for your response, and they sure as heck have no time to listen.
They ask that question to say that they have asked it.
They are busy.
They have ‘a lot’ going on, too.
They know someone else who is grieving, but they got through it.
They suck up all your energy by just carrying on as though you haven’t lived through burying your child.
They want you to be yourself again as soon as possible because they like you. They can never understand, and many don’t want to understand, that the version of you they knew is gone forever.
You are permanently changed.
They do not and never will want to hear how you are genuinely doing.
Again, back when Ethan was diagnosed, we figured out who the ‘Hoovers’ were within our circle of friends and family. Generally, when the going gets tough, the ‘Hoovers’ bow out and man, did we lose a lot of ‘Hoovers’ back in 2008.
Since Ethan’s passing, I know we still have a few ‘Hoovers’ in our lives, but that’s to be expected.
Experience is the only way you can spot a ‘Hoover’.
The way I now deal with a ‘Hoover’ is quite simple. They ask how I am doing, I respond with one word. This way is easier for me rather than letting them suck up my energy in explaining how I am doing.
It is so draining explaining to a ‘Hoover’ how you feel as they don’t want to know. They ask that question out of habit or politeness or even to make ‘small’ talk – which just doesn’t make sense considering they are asking bereaved parents how they are doing.
A ‘Hoover’ isn’t all bad, though. They can be a distraction too. They can take you out of your grief (if even for a moment) without ever meaning to.
One of the many things I took away from our very first Bereavement Camp at Barretstown is that ‘Hoovers’ and ‘Heaters’ are in our lives. They’ve always been there.
But, we don’t have to respond to a ‘Hoover’. We can decide not to answer them or use any energy on them – what a liberating thought, eh?!
Grief takes up a lot of energy.
Do we need to waste some on a ‘Hoover’?
We will attend another camp in the coming year. Our family is looking forward to something, which is a testament to the work Barretstown does.
As any grieving parent will tell you, ‘looking forward’ is one of the hardest things to do.